Slashing CT Radiation Dose

Cutting CT radiation dose should be the goal of every medical imaging facility. A new paper in European Radiology offers a promising technique that slashed CT dose to one-tenth of conventional CT – and just twice that of a standard chest X-ray.

CT’s wide availability, excellent image quality, and relatively low cost make it an invaluable modality for many clinical applications.

  • CT proved particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic for diagnosing lung pathology caused by the virus, and it continues to be used to track cases of long COVID.

But patient monitoring can involve multiple CT scans, leading to cumulative radiation exposure that can be concerning, especially for younger people.

  • Researchers in Austria wanted to see if they could use commercially available tools to produce ultra-low-dose CT scans, and then assess how they compared to conventional CT for tracking patients with long COVID.

Using Siemens Healthineers’ Somatom Drive third-generation dual-source CT scanner, they adjusted the parameters on the system’s CAREDose automated exposure control and ADMIRE iterative reconstruction to drive down dose as much as possible.

  • Other ultra-low-dose CT settings versus conventional CT included fixed tube voltage (100 kVp vs. 110 kVp), tin filtration (enabled vs. disabled), and CAREDose tube current modulation (enabled – weak vs. enabled – normal). 

They then tested the settings in a group of 153 patients with long COVID seen from 2020 to 2021; both ultra-low-dose and conventional CT scans were compared by radiologists, finding … 

  • Mean entrance-dose radiation levels with ultra-low-dose CT were less than one-tenth those of conventional CT in (0.21 mSv vs. 2.24 mSv); a two-view chest X-ray is 0.1 mSv
  • Image quality was rated 40% lower on a five-point scale (3.0 vs. 5.0)
  • But all ultra-low-dose scans were rated as diagnostic quality
  • Intra-reader agreement between the two techniques was “excellent,” at 93%

The findings led the researchers to conclude that ultra-low-dose CT could be a good option for tracking long COVID, such as in younger patients. 

The Takeaway

The study demonstrates that CT radiation dose can be driven down dramatically through existing commercially available tools. While this study covers just one niche clinical application, such tools could be applied to a wider range of uses, ensuring that the benefits of CT will continue to be made available at lower radiation doses than ever.

RTs and Radiation Dose

There’s good news and bad news from a new study in Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology that tracks 40 years of occupational radiation dose to radiologic technologists who assist with fluoroscopically guided interventional procedures. The good news is that radiation dose is low and trending lower over time; the bad news is that dose to RTs can vary based on work setting. 

As we discussed last month, interventional radiology has delivered major benefits in patient care, replacing invasive surgery for many clinical applications. 

  • But the downside of interventional procedures is that they are performed for extended periods under fluoroscopy guidance, and more complex procedures are requiring longer times with the fluoro beam on – potentially leading to more radiation exposure. 

Researchers from the NIH wanted to investigate how changes in interventional use over the past 40 years affected occupational radiation dose exposure to RTs, while also looking at the impact of radiation exposure control methods. 

  • They reviewed records from 1980 to 2020, starting with RTs participating in the US Radiologic Technologists (USRT) research study who they then linked to data submitted to radiation dosimeter badge maker Landauer. 

In all, 19.7k RTs who reported assisting with fluoroscopically guided interventional procedures over the study period were included, with researchers finding … 

  • Median annual radiation dose of 0.65 mSv, well below the occupational limit of 20 mSv
  • Median doses were highest in the 1980s and decreased over time, reflecting greater awareness of patient radiation dose and better radiation protection gear
  • A second peak in radiation dose happened from 1999-2011, most likely due to more sensitive dosimeters
  • RTs who worked closer to patients (<3 feet) had higher median annual dose, at 1.20 mSv
  • RTs who reported assisting with ≥ 20 procedures per month had higher dose, at 0.75 mSv

The researchers concluded that their findings show that radiation dose control measures are working, and better radiation dosimetry technology offers a far more accurate picture of how much dose RTs are actually exposed to. 

The Takeaway

The study’s findings should give technologists who assist with interventional procedures peace of mind that their radiation dose exposure is well within established limits. But as always with radiation exposure, vigilance is warranted. 

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